The first bluefin tuna caught by fishermen from Pingtung’s Donggang Township (東港) — famous for its annual Pingtung Bluefin Tuna Cultural Festival — were sold on Saturday, while an environmental group protested for better protection measures to be implemented for the fish.
The auction for the “first tuna” was actually for two fish that were caught at about the same time by a Donggang fishing boat, the Chiachinchun 10.
The catch was a 299.6kg male fish and a 280kg female fish, which were sold together for NT$2,888,800 (US$95,600) to two restaurants in Saturday’s auction.
Pingtung County Commissioner Tsao Chi-hung (曹啟鴻), who was the auctioneer, said the festival, which is scheduled to start on May 3, is not only to promote tasty food, but also to drive the development of related industries as the festival has brought economic benefits from tourism each year.
Council of Agriculture Deputy Minister Hu Hsing-hua (胡興華) said that although the regional fisheries management organization limits bluefin tuna fishing boats to 660 in the nation’s waters in the Pacific Ocean, the Fisheries Agency only gave permission to 458 boats this year and only allows longline fishing.
Environmental group Greenpeace in Taiwan attended the auction holding banners that read: “Fisheries Agency, save the last tuna” and “Conservation must be done to prevent reduced numbers of bluefin tuna.”
Since the first festival in 2001, the bluefin tuna catch has dropped by about 90 percent, the group said, adding that 6,686 tuna were caught during the festival in 2001, but only 505 were caught last year.
The International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the North Pacific Ocean reported that the reduction rate of bluefin tuna was about 96.4 percent from 1952 to 2011, Greenpeace added.
“We are not against the festival, but we want to stress that the large decline in the numbers of bluefin tuna caught reflects the fact that ocean resources are facing critical risks [of depletion],” oceans campaigner Yen Ning (顏寧) said.
“The Fisheries Agency should work with other nations to work out more effective management measures,” Yen said.
Although the total tonnage of bluefin tuna catch by Taiwanese boats is less than other countries that use the purse seine fishing method, which traps even young fish, “restoration of the bluefin tuna population relies on the cooperative efforts of all fishing countries,” Yen said.